The Returning by Christine Hinwood. Dial Books, 2011.
In The Returning, the war between the Uplanders and the Downlanders is over. But everyone in the village of Kayforl is still struggling with the after effects. Cam returns home from the fighting maimed and struggles to make a new life for himself. But his betrothal to Graceful Fenister is broken off by her father. His own father refuses to let him do any real work around the farm, saying Cam has already done enough. But that just leaves him feeling useless.
The villagers struggle to understand why Cam is the only one from Kayforl to return from the war. How did he survive when their loved ones did not? Maybe he was actually a traitor? Cam doesn’t help his own cause when he refuses to answer their questions. But he definitely does not want to remember and re-live the war, and he is pretty certain they don’t really want to know the full truth. Meanwhile Uplander refugees arrive in the village, displaced from their homes and livelihoods by the conflict. Cam finally leaves the village to seek the man who crippled him in battle but then saved his life and set him free. He hopes to find both answers and a future. As time passes, the lives of all of the characters come to intersect in surprising ways. And small acts of kindness or cruelty have deep and lasting effects.
One would expect that a book about the aftermath of war would be dark and difficult. But while The Returning is grim at times, the real story here is one of healing, of hope, and of forgiveness. I had one minor complaint about this book. At times the narrative leaps across time and place with no warning. Simple headings with the date and location at the start of each chapter would have eased the confusion. But once I became aware of the story’s tendency to jump about, I was able to adapt quickly. It really was a small thing in what is otherwise an excellent book. I found myself caring for all of the characters, not just Cam. They change and grow and ultimately come together to create a better future for everyone.
This review also appeared on the Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s Shelf Life blog on June 4, 2012.